New Zealand is long known as a haven for stargazers as much of New Zealand has little to no light pollution and is home to some of the most accessible observatories in the world. From June onwards, the appearance of the Matariki star cluster holds extra significance for the Māori as the star cluster that is one of the closest to earth signifies the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
Fall into the magic of clear glittering dark skies, map out constellations and spot a shooting star or two at these best certified International Dark Sky Places in New Zealand.
Aotea (Great Barrier Island), Hauraki Gulf
Aotea (meaning white cloud in Māori), also known as Great Barrier, is New Zealand’s sixth-largest island and completely off the grid, with no reticulated electricity supply.
Made up of steep forested hills, wetlands and sandy bays, all residents (approximately 1,000 permanent) are responsible for supplying their own power through solar, wind or gas. There are no billboards or streetlights and the complete lack of light pollution makes for a very sparkly stratosphere. As a result, Aotea was the first island in the world, and one of only a few destinations that have been granted Dark Sky Sanctuary status by the International Dark-Sky Association. To be awarded this status, a location must have an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights”.
A place of rugged beauty and untouched wilderness, Aotea is one of the most tranquil and unspoilt places in the wider Auckland region. You can reach the island either by ferry or a short 30-minute flight from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Canterbury
In 2012, a 4367sq km block of land in the middle of the South Island was designated as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, formalising restrictions on light pollution that had been in place since the 1980s. This was the first reserve to be awarded gold status, meaning nearly non-existent light pollution. The sheer brightness of the stars, contrasted by the ring of mountains surrounding the Mackenzie Basin, is utterly breath-taking.
The outdoor lighting controls have not only helped make the area one of the clearest, darkest and most spectacular places in New Zealand to view the night but have also helped conserve energy and protect local wildlife.
There are a number of ways to take a stargazing tour in the Mackenzie Region and keen stargazers will be able to see amazing constellations that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere, including the Southern Cross, the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way.
Stewart Island, Southland
The clue is in the name: The original Māori name for Stewart Island is “Rakiura”, translating to “glowing skies” in English. Named the world’s fifth Dark Sky Sanctuary in January 2019, it is, simply, one of the best places in the world to spot the Aurora Australis, the southern hemisphere equivalent of the famed Northern Lights.
Stewart Island’s population is in the vicinity of 400 people, so there’s a refreshing lack of light pollution. Plus, its far-south vantage point means you’ll see celestial features not visible from any other spot in the country.
Observation Rock is a viewing platform close to the town centre of Oban. Only a 30-minute walk from the town centre, it is a great place to view the night sky as well as the islands majestic sunrises and sunsets. The view is 270 degrees and the main view is to the south.
Picture by Nathan Anderson